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Knowing your disease risk before planting

6 September 2011

Understanding seed and soil pathogen levels can benefit sound crop management.  Predictive diagnostics have been used in a recently concluded four-year study, funded by the AHDB Potatoes.

Pre-planting tests that give you a quick, accurate assessment of disease risk have moved a step closer, thanks to a AHDB Potatoes-funded research project.

The research, carried out at SCRI, SAC and Central Science Laboratory, looked at how measurable pathogen inoculum in soil and seed relate to disease levels in the progeny crop.

The levels of four pathogens, causing Rhizoctonia, Black dot, Powdery scab and Potato mop top virus were evaluated in field soils and seed tubers, and the pathogen causing Erwinia on seed tubers.  The research combined work on real-time PCR assays that test for the presence of a pathogen, with the development of seed and soil sampling strategies.

Alison Lees from SCRI says:  “The exciting element of the research is being able to assess levels of pathogen contamination in soil and seed samples before planting and to correlate this to disease levels on daughter tubers’’.

“The ability to link diagnostic results to the risk of disease in the final crop is a real step forward.”

The four-year study involved working with Greenvale AP, Higgins Agriculture Ltd and MBMG to develop robust seed, soil and tuber-sampling techniques.

“Investigating seed stocks and soils for pathogens on a commercial scale and relating the crop information helped us validate the diagnostic tests and the interpretation of the findings in relation to disease risk,” says Dr Lees.

The trials monitored a wide range of cropping and environmental variables to make the link between seed and soil contamination and the incidence and severity of disease outbreaks in commercially grown crops.

A hundred seed and a hundred progeny tubers from each crop were assessed visually for each disease.  The sample was also assessed for pathogen contamination using real-time PCR, providing further accuracy.

Results from the study are now being collated and interpreted in association with the AHDB Potatoes knowledge of each disease.

The findings from the results will be made available to levy-payers for disease risk assessment and decision-making purposes, in conjunction with disease control advice in the coming months.

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